Amidst the backdrop of tragedy, and with emotions running high as F1 paid its respects to the late Jules Bianchi, the Hungarian Grand Prix would prove to be a fitting tribute to the 25 year old Frenchman, as the race delivered arguably the most exciting spectacle the sport has seen for a couple of years.
Prior to the race the grid and the spectators came together to hold a minute’s silence for Bianchi, a touching tribute attended by his family. Then the drivers put their helmets on and got into race mode, and there was drama from the very beginning.
After the warm-up lap, came… another warm-up lap! The Williams of Felipe Massa had not lined up correctly on the grid, and this required that everyone go around again to get back into position – and meant Massa would have to take a five-second penalty at his first pit stop. When the cars were finally back into position and ready to race, once again both Mercedes drivers got away sluggishly, and this time it was the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen that surged by them – Vettel and Hamilton getting very close into turn 1, as the Englishman wound up losing three places, slipping into fourth by the time they reached turn 3.
Rosberg may have beaten Hamilton off the line but he too had no answer to Vettel or Raikkonen.
The first-lap hijinks weren’t over. Hamilton, wanting to get by his Mercedes teammate Rosberg quickly, was snapping at the German’s heels as they approached the chicane at turns 6 and 7. Hamilton misjudged the situation and ran over the gravel, losing time and places – finding himself in 10th!
It seemed that the race would benefit Rosberg’s title chances considerably, but whilst third would have been a good finish in the circumstances, it was also shaping up to be the best he could hope for – the Ferraris were not only matching Rosberg’s pace but in fact pulling clear, showing speed they’d only shown in fits and spurts so far this season.
Hamilton begun to slowly creep back up the pack, dispatching car after car, whilst further up, the Red Bulls swapped places after Kvyat let Ricciardo through to push up – and with vast differences between the performances of the soft and medium tyres, the first set of stops altered the dynamic of some of the battles.
There was plenty of excitement to be had. Lotus’ Pastor Maldonaldo got a penalty for shunting the Force India of Sergio Perez off the track just after turn 2 (though Perez was able to resume racing), and Maldonaldo’s teammate Romain Grosjean also received a penalty for an unsafe pit stop release.
As the race progressed Hamilton had crept up into fourth, and was bearing down on Rosberg (after the first stops, Hamilton had elected for a second stint on the soft tyre, Rosberg was on the slower medium compound). A sudden and terrifying front-wing failure for Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India on the start-finish straight brought his race to an abrupt end, and triggered a safety car that saw a flurry of pit stop activity and put renewed pressure on the previously untroubled Ferraris. By this point, Raikkonen had a problem with his car, and as the race restarted he could nothing about Rosberg, who breezed past him.
The race up until this point had been good, but the final stint would prove breathtaking. I thought the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix had been a classic – compared to this, it had nothing.
At the restart, Hamilton tried to get around the Red Bull of Ricciardo (who, along with Kvyat, had been showing good pace all weekend, in a much improved showing for Red Bull). As they swung round turn 1, Hamilton misjudged where Ricciardo was and hit the side of the Red Bull, damaging the sidepod of the Australian’s car and ruining his own front wing. Hamilton was forced to pit, and also had to serve a drive-through penalty, ending any chance he had of winning the race. Ricciardo, remarkably, was able to carry on, even getting by Raikkonen’s struggling Ferrari and actually starting to catch Vettel and Rosberg.
During the chaos that was unfolding, both McLarens found themselves in the points, as did Grosjean (Maldonaldo took further penalties for various reasons to scupper his points chances), whilst Hamilton had to yet again climb back up through the field. It looked like Rosberg was going to make significant gains on Hamilton in the title race – but there was one more twist in this absorbing race.
Ricciardo would catch up to Rosberg with several laps to go and would harass the Mercedes but couldn’t easily find a way by – on lap 64 of 69, he made a daring bid under late braking into turn 1 and was almost by Rosberg – but the German came back across, neither driver could react in time and Rosberg chopped off part of Ricciardo’s front wing – giving himself a rear-left puncture in the process. Both cars had to pit once more – but it was Rosberg who came off worse, unable to go at racing speeds and sliding wide on several occasions as he made his way back. Incredibly, Ricciardo emerged from his stop in 3rd – behind his teammate Kvyat, who had kept his nose clean.
Hamilton would end up 6th, whilst Rosberg sunk to 8th – so, despite an error-strewn performance (this particular F1 fan feels Hamilton was too impatient at times and lacked composure), Hamilton’s lead over Rosberg has risen from 17 points to 21 points – but it was undoubtedly Vettel who gained the most, taking a dominant win (and a first for him in Hungary) to earn his 41st career win (equaling Ayrton Senna) and his second win of the year. He has reduced the gap between himself and Hamilton to 42 points and must still consider himself in with a chance.
Kvyat too, looked cool and calm even as all around him lost their heads. A first podium was a fine result for him, and also for Red Bull, who had previously looked out of sorts. Ricciardo took third place and thus meant both Red Bulls were on the podium – also marking the first time since Brazil 2013 that there wasn’t a Mercedes on the podium.
Another great story from the race was the performance of young Max Verstappen. The 17 year old Toro Rosso driver was fourth, in another example of a composed performance, and a fantastic effort.
Both McLarens scored points, with Fernando Alonso (who had pushed his car back to the pits during qualifying) finishing a season-best fifth, and Jenson Button finishing ninth. Marcus Erikkson took a point with tenth for Sauber, whilst Williams and Force India (two teams which have been performing stronger in recent weeks) scored no points.
After a difficult week that has tested the emotions and reminded everyone associated with Formula 1 of the dangers of the sport, F1 needed a race like this. It was the best possible memorial to Jules Bianchi, and as a fan, the race had everything. I hope Belgium can produce something similar.